Business Learning Resources

Bringing a Human Rights Lens to Stakeholder Engagement


Stakeholder engagement is foundational to effective implementation of the UN Guiding Principles. Meaningful stakeholder engagement is particularly essential in a business’ efforts to meet its corporate responsibility to respect human rights. An increasing number of companies have sophisticated systems and processes for conducting a wide range of stakeholder engagement activities, and there is a substantial body of guidance around effective stakeholder engagement. 

However, in practice, many human rights impacts can be linked back to challenges related to stakeholder engagement. It appears that more effective stakeholder engagement often could have prevented or mitigated them.

The Guiding Principles reference the importance of consulting with affected stakeholders at several key moments:

  • in identifying and assessing actual and potential human rights impacts;
  • in tracking and reporting on company efforts to prevent and manage those impacts;
  • in designing effective grievance mechanisms and remediation processes.

Affected stakeholders may include:

  • staff (employees and contract workers) and communities directly affected by a company’s operations;
  • more physically remote stakeholders affected through business operations in a company’s supply chain;
  • customers or end-users of a particular product or service who may be even more dispersed, such as in the ICT or financial services sectors.

Companies may also choose to engage at the broader policy level with issue expert stakeholders: individuals whose human rights are not themselves affected by a company’s activities, but who can provide insights into identifying and addressing human rights challenges, and with whom it may be important for companies to communicate about their overall performance on human rights issues. Engaging with issue experts may be helpful to companies, but it is not a replacement for engaging with affected stakeholders.

Key elements for companies to consider when engaging with stakeholders on human rights issues include:

  • Engaging the right stakeholders;
  • Engaging about the right issues;
  • Engaging the right way;
  • Engaging at the right time;
  • Engaging at the policy level;
  • Engaging internally;
  • Engaging neutral parties.